Tim Burgess is a crucial voice in modern music and, more often than not, he remains a beacon of light standing up for the correct cause. The Charlatans singer has lent his backing to numerous movements, which are not to his benefit, but for those across the industry who don’t have the same platform, and he’s helping make it a fairer place.
His Twitter account boasts over 260,000 followers, and while the website is usually a cesspit of negativity and cultural divide, Burgess’ page will help restore your faith in humanity. It’s a place in which music is championed through his ‘Tim’s Listening Party’, which has become an institution birthed out of a miserable pandemic period. The event continues to bring musos together and provide an invaluable insight into tracks from those who created them.
While on tour with The Charlatans last year, Burgess alerted his fans to a nationwide problem across venues about the hidden costs of merchandising. In the streaming age, new bands rely on surviving through ticket sales and selling merch, but Burgess revealed that some venues are taking up to 25% of total revenue, higher than the profit on vinyl, which results in the artist actually losing money on their endeavours.
His revelation hit home with fans and forced many venues to adapt their policy. After all, if these bands can’t survive, the whole industry will collapse. “We have a merch person, who we pay to come with us, and then venues were paying people to drive down from Cambridge to Birmingham just to sell at our shows, and then charge the band a huge amount of commission,” Burgess explains to Far Out from his Norfolk abode. “I like to say what I see really, and for younger bands, selling merch is a major part of their income”.
When The Charlatans first formed, selling merch was integral to them, and Burgess hasn’t allowed the band’s string of successful albums to let him forget his earthy beginnings. “We didn’t have any records out when we first started, and we only had T-shirts,” the singer recalls. “On our first release, we possibly made more on T-shirts than we did records.”
The group’s independently released debut single, ‘Indian Rope’, caught the attention of Beggars Banquet who signed them to their subsidiary, Situation Two, and they soon became one of the hottest groups in the country following ‘The Only One I Know’. A lot has changed in the musical climate since then, and it remains a constantly evolving beast, but Burgess doesn’t see this as necessarily a bad thing, noting: “Different becomes the new norm, and sometimes, that’s really healthy”. However, Burgess also explains that because the insurance policy of live shows was taken away by the pandemic, people en-mass started to wake up to the unjust treatment of artists by streaming platforms and brought the issue to “the forefront”.
Through his listening parties, The Charlatans singer found a different way to occupy himself throughout a barren period and helped provide a community spirit through an isolating time. Burgess first began this practice years ago with his own albums, and he’s now welcomed over 1000 artists to take part in the series, which has done wonders for people’s mental health during an incredibly testing time and continues to thrive still.
“Not at all,” Burgess laughs when I ask if he ever believed that it would become a longstanding fixture. “I thought it would be permanent for three weeks during the lockdown, and I wanted something with a good foundation to last that time because that’s how long I thought the pandemic would last. Then it just continued, and I thought, ‘This really is something, so let’s look after it. Let’s make it for everybody’. When the lockdown began, it was the first thing that I thought of really that could be helpful while people are sitting in their front rooms alone with just a pair of headphones, and a way to listen to music.”
Burgess concedes that his “limited organisational skills” made it a taxing task which he likened to “a comedy sketch with post-it notes on his head” and accidentally treble booking slots. Still, somehow he found a way to make it work despite his shortcomings. Since then, however, it spawned a book with the profits given to the Music Venue Trust, which is a cause close to his heart. When the future of Manchester venues The Deaf Institute and Gorilla were in doubt, Burgess played a pivotal role in helping strike a deal to keep these cultural sanctuaries alive.
It should come as little surprise that the dismal treatment of the arts by this Conservative government angers Burgess. Their Brexit deal is another example of the contempt they hold for those who work in the creative industries. Speaking anecdotally, the musician revealed: “My friend Kiko is an Italian van driver who lived in London. He used to pick up bands, and take them across the border, to go to France, and then drive through Italy, and into Germany, and all that.”
Burgess continued: “A band without a record deal would be able to do a tour, it would have to be economically, but they’d be able to do it. I think all that is not going to really be possible now.”
Of course, looking at the wider picture, it is not just touring that has been damaged, and emerging artists that have also been hurt by the Brexit deal, which neglects the exportation of culture, but the manufacturing of records has also taken a dire hit. “There’s a massive waiting list of vinyl now, and Brexit on top of all the other problems just makes it a little bit more difficult,” Burgess continued. “The reality is what I was expecting. I thought if it was to go through, then it’s going to be a shitstorm, and it is.”
On top of all the other plates that Burgess is spinning alongside his listening parties, running his independent label, and The Charlatans, he’s also found the time to make a new solo record at Rockfield Studios, which will be released later in the year.
Despite being over 30-years into his career, that hunger that he had all those years ago hasn’t disappeared. “Music is my life and I love being able to make it. I love being able to discover new stuff and it never gets tiring to me,” Burgess explains.
The Charlatans have endured such longevity partially because of his solo career, and he says a “completely different mindset” is required for both projects. With the band, everything has to go through all of the members democratically, whereas with his solo work, Burgess says, “I write something then I record it, it’s that simple really.”
Additionally, the seven-piece outfit that he’s assembled for his upcoming album has also been an invigorating experience for Burgess, and these individuals are helping him stay on his toes. “I suppose in a lot of ways you kind of write in a similar way, and the more you do it, the more you go down a similar route, so it’s good to work with new people who make your ideas sound as fresh as possible. Mark E. Smith was amazing at that,” he says about the late leader of The Fall.
Burgess says he had “a lot of history with” Smith, and there’s one particular poignant memory that stands out to The Charlatans singer. “I bumped into him at the bar in the Ramada hotel and expected him to give me a mouthful because he liked to have a go at everybody, plus we were the popular band in the NME at the time,” he says. “I stood next to him at the bar, and he said, ‘I was watching Glastonbury last night, and you were the best band on it.'”
That comment meant the world to Burgess as he’d grown up obsessed with The Fall, and Smith was famously frugal when it came to handing out compliments. While they are extremely different figures, Burgess is also a maverick who has a strong sense of authenticity attached to everything he does. There’s no doubt that the 54-year-old is one of the most necessary spokespeople in British music and anything but a charlatan.